The Peterkin Papers Critical Essays

Lucretia P. Hale


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Peterkin Papers, like most satires, may be enjoyed on two levels: a straight story of a family who has the uncanny ability to complicate everyday situations and a pointed social parody of contemporary times. On the first level, readers laugh at the Peterkins’ misadventures, delight in the illogical solutions to problems, and discover that they themselves, like the lady from Philadelphia, were able to find the simple answers that the Peterkins overlooked. Several themes for the reader can be found on this level: for example, that respect should be given to others within and outside the family, that foolish behavior can be forgiven and overlooked, and that such behavior is not confined to young people.

In each episode, the Peterkins demonstrate, through their words and actions, the respect and concern that they have for one another and for the people they meet. For example, when Mrs. Peterkin puts salt in her coffee, the whole family rushes to find someone to solve the problem so that mama can have her morning cup of coffee. The Peterkins listen and follow the advice of the chemist, who adds a multitude of chemicals to the coffee without the desired effect, pay him for his trouble, and politely send him on his way. The same is true for the woman who attempts to undo the results of the salt and other chemicals with herbs. Mama is not criticized for her mistake or for the trouble that it causes; instead, the family shows only concern for her plight.

In another story, Solomon John decides to write a book for the Peterkin library, and the family tries to help him collect the necessary supplies and waits expectantly for him to begin writing. They have provided Solomon John with their help, time, and efforts. When Solomon John at long last sits down to...

(The entire section is 730 words.)